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Archive for the ‘Politics & Society’ Category



Armistice-Veterans Day 2018

Nov12

by: on November 12th, 2018 | No Comments »

As human beings, we are a carbon-based life form.

We are close kin to the higher order apes.

We are homo sapiens, a bit of earth that can think.

We stand up straight; have an opposable thumb; have the capacity for rational thought; are able to use symbols to communicate abstract thoughts; we can use symbols to communicate about symbols; we can remember the past and plan for the future.

The gospel according to Jamie Lannister of the television version of “Game of Thrones”: “Strange thing, first time you cut a man, you realize we’re nothing but sacs of meat, blood and some bone to keep is all standing.”

I say: we are bags of water, flesh, blood, and bone called by a proper name.

We are body soul mind mysteries as long as we breathe the breath of life. We are character and personality that loves and hates, that laughs and cries, that sings and dances, that wills and desires, and sometimes just does not give a care. And when the breath leaves for the last time, our bodies become dust and ashes. We leave an empty space. Other human beings grieve.

The chemicals in our bodies are worth about one dollar.

So, what sense does it make to think that the color of the bag of water flesh blood and bone called by a proper name makes an individual more or less than any other? What sense does it make that the shape of it or the strength of it gives an individual the right to treat the Other as an object for one’s own drunken pleasure to be tossed away and forgotten like used tissue? What sense does it make that some bags think that they are superior because of the bit of earth upon which they were born or upon which they now stand or that they have a right to keep other bags from coming to that place? What makes the bags that we are fear the Other, hate the Other, and want to kill the Other to point of war?

World War I stands as one of the most deadly wars in the history of humankind. Between 15 and 19 million human beings died. Some 23 million military personnel were wounded. We do not know how many lives were shattered because of post-traumatic stress disorder, known at the time as shell shock.

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Light Shines Down on Our Tree of Life

Nov8

by: on November 8th, 2018 | No Comments »

Ner Tamid hanging in a synagogue. Image courtesy of FLLL/Wikimedia.

Days after eleven lives are extinguished, the ner tamid shines brightly. The ever-glowing light shines in every synagogue, never extinguished. It’s a remembrance of G-d’s fire-filled conversations with Abraham and Moses, a promise that the Jews will one day be as plentiful as the stars burning in the sky. The ner tamid continues to shine when there’s a bris, when there’s a marriage, when there’s a massacre.

Each synagogue is connected through these pinpricks of light, a map to a global community. The constellations light from every continent, shining bright in the darkness. Jews are guided among and between these North Stars, pointing the way toward a better world. As more people are guided to the light of each synagogue, the warmth of our community grows.

The spark of life within each of us darkens with each tragedy, but also drives us toward one another. At the Sacramento memorial gathering, the crowd pulses with emotion and one feels the vibration in the air. Mournful songs ring out, but there is also hope as people clap wildly for speakers who promise there is a brighter future. Behind me are a thousand people spread out within and between seats set up for a few hundred. The synagogue’s walls reverberate with communal love, and we shine together to reflect the darkness that comes after a massacre.

As the Hebrew mourning prayers surge through me, my grandfather’s memory rises within. The Holocaust was a dark shadow upon his life, and his family’s existence was a great middle finger to Nazis’ attempt to condemn his life. Tears stream down my face as I silently repeat, “Let it only be these 11. Please don’t let them have died in vain. Please, G-d, don’t let the light of our community dim like it did 80 years ago.”

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Isolation Versus Community

Nov8

by: on November 8th, 2018 | 4 Comments »

Tree of Life Synagogue

Tree of Life Synagogue / Creative Commons / Common Dreams

Last night after meeting with my LGBTQ book club and talking about social isolation, and what I had written but not yet posted about the massacre in Pennsylvania, I thought I should go ahead and post the piece here.

Then, this morning, I woke up to another massacre, this one in a Southern California club. In the hopes that in the midst of so many of our hearts breaking over the news, wondering what in the world we can do to make a difference, I post this so that it might be food for thought and perhaps food for action and hope.


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Voting, A Patriotic Duty

Nov6

by: on November 6th, 2018 | 3 Comments »

I am a black woman in America.

I am a woke black woman who has been woke before woke was cool.

I also love America.

I am an American patriot, an Angela Davis patriot. I heard Angela Davis explain to a television talk-show host that her activism did not come from a hatred of America, rather, it comes from her love for her country. Angela Davis patriotism is not a cheap “my country right or wrong” patriotism. It requires more than simply standing with hand over heart when the national anthem is performed before some sporting event. Angela Davis patriotism is filled with womanist virtues of love, responsibility, commitment, and complexity.

I love America because it is my home. The bones of my ancestors are interred in its ground. Their ashes are scattered over the waters that flow across the earth from its shores. The lives that they lived made America’s history that has become today becoming tomorrow. My West African ancestors came in the early 19th century in slave ships. They survived the horrors of the Middle Passage and the barbarisms of slavery and the injustices of Jim Crow to give me life and a country that allows me more opportunity than they ever had, that requires me to try my best to help this country become a more perfect union for all those who will come after me.

I do not know the story of my Irish and Scandinavian ancestors. I do not know how or when they came to the United States. I do not know the story behind the relationships that made them a part of me.

I do know that my ancestors have fought for their freedom and for the preservation of the United States. One of my ancestors walked away from slavery in Mississippi and joined the Union army to fight for his freedom. This summer my 96-year-old uncle who had served in North Africa and in Europe during World War II died. I have another uncle, now with the ancestors, who served in Vietnam as a member of the Special Forces. I have cousins who have made a career of the military. Some have served in America’s most recent wars. This spring I, a peace activist, pinned decorations on my nephew’s uniform on the occasion of his graduation from his Army basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, the same base where his grandfather completed his basic training before deploying to Korea to fight that war.

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An American Kaddish

Nov2

by: Daniel Stein Kokin on November 2nd, 2018 | 1 Comment »

 

Yitgadal ve’yitkadash sh’mei raba.

Columbine (1999; 13, 24)*

B’alma di v’ra khir’utei,

Santana (2001; 2, 13)

v’yamlikh malkhutei,

Red Lake (2005; 9, 5)

b’ḥayeikhon u-v’yomeikhon,

West Nickel Mines (2006; 5, 5)

u-v’ḥayei d’khol beit yisrael,

Virginia Tech (2007; 33, 17)

ba-agala u-vi-z’man kariv,

Fort Hood (2009; 14, 33)

v’imru amen.

Y’hei sh’mei raba m’vorakh l’alam u’l'almei almaya.

Yitbarakh v’yishtabaḥ v’yitpa’ar v’yitromam v’yitnasei,

Sandy Hook (2012; 28, 2)

v’yit-hadar v’yit’aleh v’yit-halal,

Aurora (2012; 12, 70)

sh’mei d’kudsha, brikh hu.

Washington Navy Yard (2013; 13, 8)

L’ela min kol birkhata v’shirata,

San Bernardino (2015; 16, 24)

tushb’ḥata v’neḥemata

Charleston (2015; 9, 1)

da-amiran b’alma,

Umpqua (2015; 10, 8)

v’imru amen.

Y’hei sh’lama raba min sh’maya,

Orlando (2017; 50, 58)

v’ḥayim aleinu v’al kol yisrael,

Las Vegas (2017; 59, 851)

v’al kol yoshvei teiveil,

Sutherland Springs (2017; 27, 20)

v’imru amen.

Oseh shalom bi-m’romav,

Stoneman Douglas (2018; 17, 17)

hu ya’aseh shalom

Santa Fe (2018; 10, 13*)

aleinu v’al kol yisrael v’al kol yoshvei teiveil,

Pittsburgh (2018; 11, 6)

v’imru amen.

 

* The numbers in parentheses refer to the date of the mass shooting; the number of people killed, and the number of people injured.

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Based in Berlin, Daniel Stein Kokin teaches Jewish Studies at the University of Greifswald in Germany and is currently back in his hometown Los Angeles as a visiting professor of Israel Studies at UCLA.

My Dinner with the Devil (a short story)

Oct31

by: on October 31st, 2018 | 1 Comment »

He was a tall, dark, and handsome stranger standing in front of me in the grocery store line. He was “Oh my goodness fine.” But, I was cool, thumbing through a special edition of Rolling Stone about John Lennon.

The man said something out loud, and I looked up. He seemed to be reciting his grocery list.

“Excuse me,” I said.

“Oh no. It’s nothing. I am talking to myself,” he said.

“That’s fine. As long as you do not answer yourself, you are ok,” I said looking back at the magazine.

“And if I do answer myself?” he asked.

“Then I would suggest to you that you seek professional help.”

We both laughed.

“I suppose that may not be a bad idea,” he said.

“Absolutely not,” I replied. “More people in the United States of America ought to seek professional help. If you are not already crazy, this country, especially now, will make you crazy.”

“Sign of the times,” he said.

“Look around. Violence, drug and alcohol abuse. We all need to have a mental health primary care doc the same say we have a physical primary care doc,” I said.

“I think you may be right,” he said. “Are you a Beatles fan?” he asked noticing the magazine.

“”I am,” I said. “I am especially interested in John and his opposition to war in general and to the Vietnam War in particular.”

The line had moved forward, and he not only paid for his groceries but he paid for mine as well. I protested, but he insisted. So, I just said thank you.

As we were leaving the store, he asked me out to dinner, saying he would like to talk some more about my ideas on war and peace and John Lennon. My shields went up. I was at once wary and intrigued. What is the deal with this handsome stranger who just paid for my groceries?

“You ought to know that I am a personally conservative and politically radical,” I said. This was my way of saying that he had not bought a sexual encounter.

“That sounds interesting,” he said. “I tell you what: let me give you the name of a restaurant that I like and if you want to join me for dinner, say Saturday night around 6, then come. If you do not come, I will not be hurt.”

He did not ask for my number. He did not say that he would text me. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a small notebook and a very expensive pen and wrote down the name and address of a very expensive downtown restaurant. He handed me the paper with a smile. A beguiling, charismatic, intriguing smile.

“I will think about it,” I said. “What is your name?” I asked.

“Belial Set,” he replied.

I told him my name. We shook hands and parted ways.

“Belial Set,” I thought. “This is a strange name.” I said it to myself a few times because I did not want to forget. The moment I got home, I would Google him.

When I did Google him, I found a connection to the devil, but nothing else. Set was the Egyptian god of chaos. This man was not real. He could not be serious. “Who would name their son Belial?” I thought. Maybe he is crazy. I thought and thought for days until I finally decided to go. There was room on my credit card to pay for a nice meal at an expensive restaurant and to get myself there and home.

Saturday night came. It took me a minute to decide not to wear the high heels with my going out to dinner at a nice restaurant little black dress. I have decided to unbind my feet from high heels, so I chose the rose gold flats. I powdered my nose and was out the door.

He was at the restaurant when I arrived, waiting at the bar looking as handsome, no as beautiful, as I remembered. He waved me over and we did not have to wait at all for a table. We were seated at a very nice table. The wait staff at the restaurant knew him well. I was intentional about paying attention to this man, how he walked and talked and interacted with people. There was something different about him, but I could not quite put my finger on what it was. He was alluring.

“I Googled you,” I said. “But, did not find out much. What do you do, and why do you not have an Internet footprint?”

“You could say that I am in mergers and acquisitions,” he replied. “I have an Internet footprint, just not the kind you are accustomed to finding because I am Satan aka Lucifer.”

“I am out to dinner with a crazy man,” I thought. “How am I going to get myself out of here quickly and safely?”

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An “exodus” rather than a “caravan”

Oct31

by: Rev. Dr. Karen Bloomquist on October 31st, 2018 | 1 Comment »

Image of Honduran refugees trying to cross a bridge and being blocked

2,000 Honduran migrants traveling toward Mexico. Image courtesy of boitchy (Flickr).

Rather than referring to the thousands of mostly Hondurans now journeying across Mexico as a “caravan,” with all the fears and dangers this can stir up, the public discourse can shift significantly if this is referred to instead as an “exodus” of people fleeing from oppression and violence. It is similar to the Exodus described in the Bible, as well as the many stories and waves of immigration throughout Scripture. Exodus politics are at work whenever those in power take advantage of and exploit the powerless, as US policies have been doing for decades in Central America.

This is consistent with the many ways the story of the Exodus has empowered many people throughout history, such as African-Americans and Central Americans seeking freedom and liberation. “Exodus can be read…as the story of the revolutionary struggle of an oppressed people who search for their liberation, and as the story of the formation of a new society based on other principles…than the generalized slavery of Egypt and Canaan.” [J. Pixley in Global Biblical Commentary, p. 28]

Those desperately fleeing from extreme poverty and violence in this exodus today may seek a better life in a “promised land” but what awaits them is far from that! There are powerful forces of resistance, militarization and even criminalization that await them, and if they are even able to reach the US, no promise of a better life assured. But this does not deter them, nor did hurdles turn back the ancient Israelites. Instead, as one exclaimed on behalf of many, “only God gives us the strength to go on, and to hope.”

In the original Exodus story, the Pharaoh was so fearful of the oppressed people growing in number and power that he ordered the midwives Shiprah and Puah to kill all their male babies (Exodus 1). However, they deceived and went against the Pharaoh’s order and instead, respected God. How might people of faith along with others today be like these midwives and resist, even block what the current “pharaoh” is intending? What policies might be developed on the basis of compassionate justice rather than the perpetuation of fear and more violence?

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The Rev. Dr. Karen Bloomquist is a Lutheran pastor and theologian living in Oakland CA, who seeks to connect faith perspectives with what is occurring politically today  (bloomquistkaren@gmail.com).

With A Perfect Hatred (part 2)

Oct29

by: on October 29th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

I hate liars and lies with a perfect hatred. As it is written in the Psalms: “I hate and detest falsehood, But I love [God's] law. (Psalm 119:163)

As I write this, the United States has been rocked by multiple acts of violence in the past few days. A Florida man has been accused of sending multiple pipe bombs to prominent Democrats. Thankfully, the bombs did not explode. As we were reeling from this act of terrorism, a white supremacists tried to break into an African-American church to do harm. When he could not get in, he went to a local Kroger store in Kentucky and shot two African Americans dead. While we were processing this tragedy, a white nationalist walked into a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed 11 worshippers and injured six.

Violence is lazy and stupid.

What did these men think? Did the Florida man think that he would send bombs to high-ranking Democrats and progressive thought would go away? Did he think that people would say; “Oh my goodness, these people are dead, I ought to support Donald Trump now.”? When the killer shot two African Americans in a Kroger store did he think that all black people across the globe would vaporize? When the shooter entered the Tree of Life synagogue did he think that a religion that has maintained for millennia through countless purges and the Holocaust would suddenly disappear? Stupid.

These killers clearly do not know history. The moment blood is shed in the name of a cause or as an attack on a segment of humanity for no reason other than who they are, the blood sanctifies the cause and humanity remembers that human life is precious. Violence makes people more dedicated to their cause. Violence makes people more determined to live and to render the violence ineffective.

Violence is lazy. It is lazy because it somehow believes that a cause can be defeated through violence. In reality, one cannot bomb a political ideology. One cannot shoot and entire race of people. One cannot mass murder a religion.

In the face of lazy stupid useless violence, what am I to do with my perfect hatred?

I wish it were a tangible thing that I could pack away in a box and put it in the back of the basement to await death cleaning. Or, would that it were a thing that I could toss in the kitchen garbage then put on the curb for the weekly trash truck to pick up and dump in the local landfill. There it could rest for a thousand years until an archeologist digs it up and dusts it off to learn about a culture long gone. Sadly, this is not how a perfect hatred works.

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Report from the Climate Summit

Oct29

by: Ellie Lyla Lerner on October 29th, 2018 | No Comments »

On Sept. 8, San Francisco became the epicenter of climate change activism, playing host to a new generation of Bay Area climate activists with a climate march and the Global Climate Action Summit, hosted by Governor Jerry Brown.

More than 30,000 came to view the climate murals and march outside San Francisco City Hall, many of whom were young people. One of the muralists was Grace McGee, a student at San Francisco School of The Arts (SOTA). McGee said “[I feel] really concerned as a young person, a part of the generation that is going to be inheriting this planet and all the problems caused by climate change, because I don’t feel like the current political administration is doing enough to protect our right to a safe environmental future.”

Young climate change activists standing in front of banner while being interviewed

Image of young climate changes activists at July 2018 march in Pittsburgh. Image courtesy of Mark Dixon.

Walking around the booths at the climate march later that day, I saw many climate organizations with founders and representatives between the ages of 10 and 25. Under a green awning, I met Tia Hatton, a 21-year-old who is one of the 21 plaintiffs in the lawsuit Juliana v. U.S. against the federal government for violating the next generation’s rights to a healthy and habitable climate. She talked about the importance of youth getting involved in politics so that “politicians are aware that young people and the next generation of voters care about climate change and are going to be disproportionately affected.”

The week after the climate march, I attended the Youth Sustainability Summit where Bay Area high school student activists networked and spoke about the impact of student groups leading the fight against global warming. Aislinn Clark, an incredibly articulate 12-year-old climate activist, presented at the summit about her lobbying work on Capitol Hill with the organization Heirs To Our Oceans. She believes that “policy is going to help us make the biggest difference we can…..[and our] lobbying efforts in Washington made an impact and were successful. A lot of people were listening to us and a few of the bills we were asking them to support even got passed.”

Amongst the youth who participated in San Francisco’s week of climate activities, many expressed their frustration with the current administration’s lack of climate action, though some believe that the only solution to the climate crisis is a complete restructuring of our economic and political system. Interspersed between the green-and-white booths at the climate march, I noticed red flags where socialist groups shared their platform for a sustainable world. According to James (last name withheld), a 25-year-old member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, “the climate crisis has been perpetuated by capitalism and the pursuit of the profit motive… and only a socialist system can roll back or at least try to halt the damage that has been done.”

While there is a disagreement between those who believe in working within the current political system and those who have determined that the political system is too skewed towards protecting the people who are perpetuating global warming, it is clear that young people are going to be the leaders of the climate movement. As Shai Barton, a 14-year-old climate activist with Heirs To Our Oceans, said, “because of the current tone of our federal administration, it’s going to fall upon us as ordinary, young citizens to make change and not depend on our current government for policies we are not getting.”

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Ellie Lyla Lerner is a 16 year old high school student and film maker in S.F.

“Tell The Truth and Shame The Devil”

Oct29

by: on October 29th, 2018 | No Comments »

Alexandra Schwartz’s short, informative essay in the New Yorker—well, the title almost says it all: “The Tree of Life Shooting and the Return of Anti-Semitism to American Life.” Almost, but not quite. Please read it.

Why? To glimpse the seemingly evergreen historical uses of antisemitism if you didn’t grow up like me, constantly reminded by the absence of ancestors and the words of those around you that we are always in jeopardy, that we live here on sufferance, on a provisional tolerance that can always be withdrawn. Read it to glimpse the experience of so many in my generation: the perpetual anticipation of the other boot dropping—on our necks, this time.

Reading this short, informative essay could help some people begin to understand that genocide happened to us in living memory, but not for the first time, not by a longshot. Even now, nearly 75 years after the end of World War II, there are fewer than half the Jews on the planet than had the Holocaust not happened. There are approximately 14 million Jews today; in 1939 there were about 16 million—so we haven’t even recouped the loss. Authoritative estimates say that with normal birth rates and no Holocaust, there would be upwards of 32 million today. Glimpsing history might help readers understand that for those in my generation, when Nazis march in Charlottesville chanting, “Jews will not replace us,” when an assassin opens fire in a synagogue yelling “All Jews must die,” we are reminded that exterminating more than one out of every three of us isn’t enough, not by a longshot. And in a nation that has more guns than people, our fear grows realer every day.

The ordinary antisemitism I grew up with: being chased every year when the Catholic kids got around to the chapter in catechism class that inspired them to punish us for killing Jesus; going to the principal’s office while the entire public school population sang Christmas carols in the auditorium; knowing all the words to all the carols and all the Christian holidays anyway, and never once being asked to show-and-tell something about our own heritage. Learning all the names for Jews my classmates imbibed with their mothers’ milk. Hearing that my father had been beaten for the crime of being Jewish by a man who worked down the street where he and his fellow housepainters kept their brushes and cans and ladders; and that someone had summoned the police, and the policeman made my father shake hands with his assailant. Microaggressions is the wrong word. Try macro.

No one burned a cross in front of our house. We were never carted away on trains. But the message of disbelonging came through clearly, and it could jump out to surprise me in any dark corner of conversation or any headline or any overheard slur. And even though it was more subtle, it rhymed so closely with the stories of our collective past and the element of surprise they all contained, we knew we had to stay awake.

I’m first generation in this country. I was taught by my immigrant forebears—who had trouble distinguishing homegrown uniformed men with guns from the ones who killed my great-grandfather in Vitebsk—to fear the police. I have never called the police in my life, and I doubt I ever will.

I have been a person of the left all my life, believing that neither justice nor mercy can come from special pleading for one’s own. They must be fundamental, universal human rights. Yet my commitment has been tried by the times my experience and history are trivialized by fellow progressives who decide on the basis of the white skin privilege many (but by no means all) of us have—the fact that I will not be stopped for driving or walking while Jewish—that to be a Jew in the USA is more or less the same as being a white Protestant and I ought to get over it, drop my paranoia, focus on real oppression. By the times that stereotypical views of Jews are casually accepted while speaking in similar ways about other identities gets called out, and not necessarily by those whose identities are being disparaged. By the times calling attention to what is actually happening in this country (as I did in this essay in June) has brought charges of exaggeration, of alarmism. By the expectation that I will accept the assurances of those who bloodlines don’t carry the same sensors for impending fascism, that I should relax and trust them to care about what happens to me and my ilk.

Jewish history confers no special virtue or status. Neither does any other. In every group, certain people have amassed the economic power or kissed up to the king hard enough to be crowned exceptions and do the oppressors’ work: for every Clarence Thomas or Ben Carson there is a Sheldon Adelson or Jared Kushner. Persecution is just as equal-opportunity: the appalling frequency with which Christians and Muslims have been threatened or attacked in their houses of worship tells the same story of leaders who peddle death, who use terrible words and actions to draft broken men into their scapegoating strike force, then disclaim the blood that is spilled in their names.

No livable future can emerge from a hierarchy of oppressions. Having compassion for my fear and understanding the very real danger that triggers it in no way limits the compassion I or anyone else can have for your very real history and present-day jeopardy. There is enough empathy to go around. If we make it a competition, we serve those who feast on our division.

May the memories of all those who have died of hatred stoked in high places be a blessing to all who love freedom. And may the fear felt by survivors carrying history in our bones be answered with compassion.

And that is the silver lining. Compassion is one good thing to come out of this: that so many non-Jews are finally speaking up when we are targeted. I don’t have words to say how different this feels from the ordinary run of my experience, and how much I welcome and appreciate it. Let me close with another short piece, this one written by Phyllis Bennis and Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II for the Nation. The title almost says it all: “In Response to Pittsburgh, We Must Come Together as One.” Almost, but not quite. Please read it too.

The title of this essay comes from “The Devil Finds Work,” a song by Rev. Sekou, who I just discovered—why did it take me so long? Be sure to listen to “Resist” too, a song for now.